FORTVILLE — There might come a day when Mt. Vernon golf coach Caleb Zelencik needs to treat Oliver Mast like the teenager he is.
But he doubts it.
Shortly after letting what would have been a second straight sectional title slip through his fingers Monday, the 16-year-old Mast was all smiles. His team had finished third and earned a regional berth, and that — not the sudden-death playoff heartbreaker he suffered hours earlier — seemed to be all that was on his mind.
Mast only wished he could have done one thing better in pursuit of the sectional crown.
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“More hole-in-ones,” he said, barely letting a grin slip through his otherwise straight face. “I really would like to get the ball in the hole in one shot more often.”
Clearly, the defeat had long since departed his thoughts. His focus already was turned to Friday, The Players Club and the Muncie Central Regional, where he and his Marauders aim to once again finish in the top three and secure passage to the State Finals.
“He’s unshakable,” the coach emphasized. “He keeps his composure as well as any golfer I’ve had.”
Don’t get him wrong, Zelencik said, Mast is immensely competitive. He was disappointed he came up short in the sectional playoff, he just wouldn’t show it. He never does. He never lets aggression or ambition overwhelm him.
Asked if he could remember a time during Mast’s two seasons where the sophomore needed to be talked down, Zelencik drew a blank.
It’s almost the opposite, actually.
“Bad shots, bad holes motivate him more than anything else. I’ve seen him bogie one hole and immediately come back with a birdie the next hole often this year. It’s really amazing.”
As a freshman at last year’s Muncie Central Regional, Mast fired an 80, outplaying each of his Hancock County counterparts. That list included his senior teammate and three-time county champion Austin Alexander, now at Division-III Defiance College in Ohio, as well as Greenfield-Central’s Adam Casto, now golfing at Division-III Hanover College.
If he wasn’t rattled then, Zelencik said, nerves certainly won’t be a factor this time around.
What will be is a step up in competition.
At Monday’s sectional, five golfers scored in the 70s. At last year’s regional, it was 15.
That said, he’ll enter Friday among the favorites to claim the individual crown. Only five of his regional competitors fired better than his 74 during their sectional tournaments. That list includes Muncie Central’s Keenan Bronnenberg (71), Noblesville’s Josh Keating (72), Cathedral’s Joe LaMagna (72) and Oak Hill’s Cody White (74).
Additionally, Zelencik said, the budding star is much better equipped to do battle at the extensive Players Club. During the offseason, Mast put on weight and tweaked his swing, both allowing him to add extra distance to his drives.
Judging by the way he’s striking the ball during the past few weeks, Zelencik said, he should not struggle with the length of the links as he did last season.
However, it’s not the individuals that concern Mast. It’s the other teams.
Though it will be a tall task for Mt. Vernon to slip past favorites New Castle, Hamilton Southeastern, defending champion Yorktown, Cathedral, Bishop Chatard, Oak Hill and others, getting the Marauders to state remains the No. 1 goal in Mast’s mind.
“It might not seem like it sometimes, but (high school) golf is a team sport as well as an individual sport,” Mast said. “And I know my four teammates are counting on me to provide the lowest score I can to help us get to state. That’s what I’ll be focused on.”
Making the trip to Muncie
Joining Mast and the Marauders at the Muncie Central Regional will be individual qualifiers from Hancock County: Greenfield-Central’s Clayton Long and New Palestine’s Brady Elliott.
For the Cougar junior, this will be Long’s first regional appearance. He earned the bid after shooting an 80 at Hawk’s Tail on Monday.
For Elliott, this will be the senior’s third and final regional trip. Last year, he carded an 88. The year before, he finished with an 86. He punched his regional ticket with an 83 on Monday.
Name: Oliver Mast
School: Mt. Vernon
Family: Father, Steve Mast
Personal best score: 71 (achieved at last year’s Greenfield-Central Sectional at Hawk’s Tail).
Favorite golfer: Tiger Woods — “He’s a big reason I got into golf when I was younger,” Mast said. “Despite the scandal and everything else, I’m still one of his biggest fans.”
Dream: Earn scholarship to play golf at College of Charleston in South Carolina
With its third-place finish during Monday’s Greenfield-Central Sectional at Hawk’s Tail, Mt. Vernon advanced to the regional round of the 79th Annual IHSAA Boys Golf State Tournament. Joining the Marauders as individual qualifiers from Hancock County will be Greenfield-Central’s Clayton Long and New Palestine’s Brady Elliott. Here’s what you need to know about the next event for the county’s top golfers.
What: The Muncie Central Regional
When: 8 a.m., Friday
Where: The Players Club in Muncie
Who: Qualifiers from the Greenfield-Central, Indianapolis Cathedral, Monroe Central, Noblesville, Norwell and Richmond sectionals.
Advancement from regional: The top-three lowest scoring teams as well as the top-five lowest scoring individuals, excluding those who advance with a team.